I know this is just bad luck, BUT

The other day I heard what sounded like a bowling dropping on the floor in the apartment above. Then I started smelling burnt wire, it was faint at first, but got worse fast. So I’m running around, smelling my fridge, the computer, anything electrical, can’t find the source. My smoke detectors go off, then I hear smoke detectors going in apartments all around. I run out, knock on one door, no one home, run upstairs, knock on that door, tell the guy something’s on fire, he doesn’t see or smell anything. I go back down to my place and just in the minute or two I was gone there is smoke coming out of my bedroom, I hear a crackling sound. I go in there, and in my bathroom ceiling there is smoke coming out. I found out later the guy’s bathroom above had developed a leak under his floor, the water built up around an internal motor and heater in my bathroom ceiling, and it eventually got high enough that when the motor turned on it shorted.

I shut every breaker in the place down and now the apartment is pitch black. Except for a nice toasty glow I can see through a crack between the metal plate covering the motor and the ceiling plaster. I got a fire extinguisher out of my kitchen, ran in there, cranked down on that plate by hand — it was bolted to the ceiling — and got enough play in it that I could get the nozzle on the fire. And I emptied that fucker into the flames. Which by the way added a thick fog-like white mist to the already smoky interior, but it wasn’t too bad, no damage done except for the motor and some wiring and casing up in there. It stank the place up, god only knows what I inhaled, but it dissipated fast with all the doors and windows open.

But had I not been here, or had I been in a deep sleep, I don’t think it would have stopped by itself.

I know the last few years have just been a bad run of luck. There are plenty of people who have way worse luck, this sure could have been worse. But when you have one bad luck event after another, it’s easy to understand how less skeptical people might start seeing cosmic conspiracies or supernatural intervention. You search, for a cause, for a solution, but there isn’t one, because it’s just bad luck.


  1. Pteryxx says

    For what it’s worth, it’s not *just* bad luck – it’s also infrastructure failure, or in your case, probably crappy maintenance from having to live in a cheap place. One of the traps of poverty is increased risk of expensive failures.

    Damn, I hope you’re okay. You probably saved the building single-handedly. (Wish you could charge the asshole landlords for the service.) ;>

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Let’s get scientific about this: please draw up a list of all fire and/or water spirits you may have offended at any time during your life, by a sin or sins of commission or omission…

  3. says

    Don’t know about Texas law, but in GA another red state, a landlord is required to maintain “habitability” of rental units. A unit which spontaneously bursts into flames is not on any reasonable definition habitable. Failure to maintain plumbing in the unit above made your unit uninhabitable. You might be able to negotiate a settlement with your landlord. Of course, I imagine the law in Texas is skewed towards landlords and they might either fine you for smoke damage or evict you. In any case, yet another example of your run of awful luck.

  4. unbound says

    I think Pteryxx has the right concept with “One of the traps of poverty is increased risk of expensive failures.”

    I live in a pretty well built house that was brand new when I got it, but there were definitely short-cuts taken in the construction that have resulted in a number of failures (fortunately, I have just enough money to absorb those hits). I shudder to think how many more short-cuts are taken for mass-produced, cheap housing. It really shouldn’t be surprising that there will be major failures that will be occurring from time-to-time in such a place.

  5. says

    For crying out loud, call 911. Even if you’re sure the fire’s out — it might not be out.

    The fire department needs to be called in to make sure there aren’t any pockets that will flare up. The electrical company needs to be called in to make sure there are no wires that will short again the instant the circuit breakers are turned back on. The building inspector needs to inspect the building to make sure it’s habitable.

    A report needs to be made to document just what failed and when.

  6. Johnny Vector says

    What Kevin said. I have a friend who had a similar electrical fire in his apartment, and another who was a volunteer firefighter. From both of them, as well as the NFPA fire extinguisher training I took last year, the clear message is “you don’t know if the fire is out”. Feel free to blast away with the extinguisher, but get the firefighters there too. They will calmly lead you out of the room so you don’t see them tearing a huge hole in the ceiling. Cause they need to do that to make sure it’s really out.

    And documentation will be good cause just watch, the owners will try to blame it on you.

  7. Skip White says

    I had a similar incident happen in a crappy apartment I lived in years ago. I called the fire department to make sure everything was ok, and the next day the landlord berated me for calling them. Probably because the building was old and had numerous code and health violations (the septic tank was also backing up into the back yard, with condoms and dead rabbits sort of floating on a swamp of waste). Luckily I was able to find another apartment nearby with roughly the same rent each month.

  8. pixiedust says

    Sounds to me like your landlord owes you for having your fire extinguisher recharged. Plus a “fire extinguisher recharging fee”. About $700, I’m guessing.

  9. says

    Oh Zog yes, what Kevin and Johnny said times 10! Get the FD in there to make sure things are not about to flare up again, like in the middle of the night while sleeping. Insulation and other building materials can smolder in between walls or ceilings for hours and hours, and then they get a hit of O2 and whoof! burst into flames. Especially if the building isn’t up to code. Which it probably isn’t.

    Having the FD come in will also CYA.

  10. lanir says

    Wow… Ought to be interesting to see how the landlord deals with it. They may try to tell you that you have to find another place to live at your expense while they work on it. They sound like awesome people that way. You should be able to get them to pay for it but they could be sheisty enough to make you sue them to get it. Seems like some of those places live by the rule of “anything goes until the subpoena arrives”.

    @Unbound: #4
    I can tell you one – A relative of a friend bought a mass produced house in a nice area in northern Illinois. One whole wall had no insulation at all. One of the first couple winters it got cold enough the pipes in it burst. Fortunately they had enough money to credibly sue. I think the contractor settled.

  11. grumpyoldfart says

    Bad luck about the fire. Good luck that you were home.

    I once stopped in front of a shop that was on fire. Through the windows I could see a red glow right at the back of the store and out on the street I could see the fire brigade about three blocks away and coming towards it. By the time the trucks arrived the whole floor was a complete mass of flames. It was that quick – a couple of minutes from “throw a bucket of water on it” to “it’s gone, let’s see if we can stop it spreading to the neighbors.”

  12. says

    Indeed, I wouldn’t call that bad luck – you were quite lucky to be at home. Had an optimist written this article, they could’ve ended with “But when you have one lucky event after another, it’s easy to understand how less skeptical people might start seeing cosmic aid or supernatural intervention. “

  13. timberwoof says

    “Call 911” is seconded, thirded, and firsted. When handling any fire emergency, [i]first[/i] call 911 or direct someone else right there to do it.

    At San Francisco’s NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team) training, they talk about an apartment building that burned down because no one in the office called the FD until they had located the fire … in the other building. Hearing the story told was like watching a train wreck.

    That said, good on you for handling it, especially the bit about the circuit breakers.

    I hope you have a habitable place for the night. :/

  14. gardengnome says

    Been there, done that. Definitely get the Firies in! You don’t know if it’s really out, you don’t know what further damage may be done and you don’t know if the situation is now safe.
    Also they should confirm the cause and document the whole thing so the landlord can’t try to twist the blame.

  15. Trebuchet says

    “Call 911″ is seconded, thirded, and firsted. When handling any fire emergency, [i]first[/i] call 911 or direct someone else right there to do it.

    I’m going to disagree with that a little bit: First, GET THE HELL OUT, then call 911.

    OT: Both Dispatches and Pharyngula are broken at the moment, perhaps other. Perhaps an error in an advertising script or something.

  16. timberwoof says

    First, GET THE HELL OUT, then call 911.

    It’s a judgement call. If you have a sufficient fire extinguisher and someone else to help and the fire is still small and … and … and … then go ahead and squirt stuff at the fire. But as soon as it threatens to get bigger despite your efforts, get the hell out. Your point is well taken: don’t become a casualty.

  17. catlover says

    Boy — what happened really sucked. I am SO glad you are OK! I am SO sorry that happened.

    I also second what others have said: GET OUT FIRST — THEN call 9-1-1. Firefighters are pros who know how to put out fires and how to tell if a fire is REALLY out.

    I hope you can find a decent place to stay tonight, and in the future. Please keep us posted on how you are doing, and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

  18. cham826 says

    Glad you’re ok. But in situations like these there is a lot of confirmation bias to be had if one is so inclined. I mean, let’s not forget about all of the many days in a row when nothing bad happened.

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